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Essential Sequence: Wake Up and Flow

Morning Yoga Sequence | Morning Yoga Flow | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

Full disclaimer: when it comes to the morning, I’m a coffee first kind of guy. Yoga is a close second. But, it’s second nonetheless. It wasn’t always this way, but nothing is permanent. So, if you’re like me and you prefer some liquid inspiration to get yourself on the mat first thing, don’t judge yourself. Once you’re ready, here’s a solid, get-up-and-go practice.

This is a pretty simple, straightforward sequence. You don’t need to revolutionize the future of yoga sequencing before noon. You just need to ease into your body, get moving, turn upside down a time or two and chase the cobwebs away with some backbends.

The sequence starts with three opening postures — Child’s Pose, Downward Dog, and Ardha Uttanasana — to slowly stretch the back of your body. Then, you transition into Sun Salutations. I have “Surya Namaskar A” listed here, but you can do any style of Sun Salutation that you like. I take my first couple of Salutations incredibly slowly. It wasn’t always this way, but, again, nothing is permanent. Take as many as you like and move at whatever pace you prefer.

Next, you’ll jump into a progression of standing poses. I like to practice Warrior II-based postures prior to Warrior I-based postures, because they’re easier for my hips. This is the order that I’ve chosen for this sequence, but I don’t have a black and white rule about it. I used to, but nothing is permanent.

After you’ve done a few openers, done as many Salutations as you fancy, and worked through your standing postures, it’s time to get upside down. If you’re not practicing Handstand, you could do Half-Handstand with your feet at the wall. Or, you could omit the inversion entirely. If you have a few tricks up your sleeve and want to do additional inversions or arm balances, go for it.

The sequence concludes with Bridge Pose and Upward Bow Pose, followed by Supta Padangusthasana. My backbends feel even tighter in the morning than in the afternoon. It’s always been this way — some things never change. Supta Padangusthasana grounds you after your backbends and rounds out the sequence. A brief Savasana or Seated Meditation is a nice way to fully close the practice. Usually, I include these, but I’m honest enough to tell you that sometimes I don’t. Once in awhile, it feels like I spent the entire morning sequence trying not to feel like a corpse.

OK, enjoy your practice!

PS: For easier practice at home, you can sign up for our newsletter and we’ll send you a free printer-friendly PDF download. If you are already on our newsletter list, you still have to enter your email to receive the sequence.

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my online course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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Essential Yoga Sequence for Lower Back Pain

Before we get to the post, a quick, shameless plug for my upcoming trainings. You can join me live at my 500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training in San Francisco, London, or Hong Kong. I also have three separate online teacher trainings, focusing on arm balances & inversions, sequencing, or anatomy.

Yoga for Back Pain | Best Yoga Poses for Back Pain | Jason Crandell Yoga Method

I know back pain. I’ve dealt with varying degrees of back pain—from mild to severe—for more than 20 years. I’ve also worked with hundreds of students that have similar challenges. Whether their doctor has suggested trying yoga for back pain or they’ve just exhausted all other options, many students turn to yoga when they’re facing lower-back problems.

My yoga practice has provided me with an exceptional tool for managing my back and minimizing flare-ups. At the same time, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for using yoga for back pain. Postures that soothe some students, agitate others. Yoga is for everybody, but not all postures are for everybody. With this in mind, the goal of this sequence is to provide you with some general principles and a simple sequence that may help you with general, overall lower-back maintenance. I’m hopeful that many of these postures–if not the entire sequence–will help you keep back discomfort at bay if you practice them regularly.

Of course, this sequence is not for acute pain, nor does it account for (or provide) specific diagnoses. If you’re in acute pain, please find a medical provider. Also, please omit all postures that are contrary to your medical provider’s suggestions.

One more thought: A detailed examination of yoga for back pain is beyond the scope of this blog post. But, before you launch into this sequence, there are a few important principles to pay attention to:

My Approach to Yoga for Back Pain

1. Focus on maintaining the natural curves of your spine, especially the lordotic curve of your lower back.
2. Focus on hip and leg flexibility. Yes, some students need more stability in these regions. But, generally speaking, excessive tension in the hips and legs needs to be addressed so that the pelvis can be in it’s proper position in daily life and in yoga postures.
3. Breathe slowly, smoothly, and deeply. Breathing settles the inclination for the nervous system to overreact and helps facilitate spinal motion.
4. Remember that there’s going to be a little trial and error. Some things will work for you and some things won’t.
5. Back off when something hurts. Period.
6. Lastly, all hygiene requires consistency. Consider this sequence good hygiene for your lower back. Got it?

WHY THIS SEQUENCE WORKS

POSES 1-5

Reclined hip, hamstring, and inner leg (adductor) openers should be the bread and butter of lower back maintenance strategies. Yes, a strong and stable core is essential for lower back comfort. But, if excessive hip, hamstring, or adductor tension is keeping your pelvis out of proper alignment, no amount of core strength is going to protect your lower back.

These first three poses are so valuable that you can practice them on their own — especially if you’re not comfortable with the following postures. The first four postures of this sequence don’t require your lower back or pelvis to move. Instead, you keep your lower back and pelvis stationary and move your leg. Most of you will need to hold a yoga strap instead of holding your foot. The 5th posture introduces a mild reclined twist in order to help you create more mobility in your thoracic spine (the part of your spine that your ribs connect to).

POSES 6-8

In addition to mobilizing your hips, hamstrings, and adductors, strengthening your core is essential for lower back comfort. Two of the most effective core strengtheners in yoga are what I call “Core Connector” (pose 6) and Forearm Plank (pose 8). These poses require very little spinal flexion (anterior spinal rounding) to execute correctly. If the minor rounding of your spine in the “Core Connector” is uncomfortable, do a few rounds of Forearm Plank instead. In this sequence, I threw in Down Dog between the two core postures to help you focus on lengthening your spine, which can help alleviate back discomfort.

POSES 9-10

Most people love to alternate between Cat Pose and Cow Pose. I don’t. Honestly, I just don’t find Cow Pose to be comfortable or effective in my body. Cat, I like. Cow, I can live without. So, I selected Sphinx Pose to pair with Cat Pose instead. Sphinx is the first pose in these sequence where you’re taking your back into extension. As you do this pose, don’t let your belly sink heavily into the floor since this may arch your lower back too intensely. Instead, gently press your pubic bone into the floor and draw your lower belly toward your spine. Notice how this pose feels in your lower back. Some of you will crave more, some of you will want to get out sooner rather than later.

POSES 11-14

Hip openers should be a staple in your back care routine. Pigeon Pose is most notable for the stretch it delivers to the outer and posterior hips — especially gluteus maximus and the six external rotators that live under glute max. But, Pigeon Pose — like the two postures that follow it in this sequence — also lengthens the hip flexors that lay on the front of the pelvis. This is particularly true for those you with exceptionally tight hip flexors. Posture 13 adds the hip flexor lengthening by also stretching the quadriceps. This group is rounded out with a lunging twist since mild twists feel so good for many people with muscular tension in their back.

POSES 15-16

Closing a sequence with a mild twist and a mild forward bend like Child’s Pose is soothing for nearly everyone who struggles with lower back discomfort. You can make Child’s Pose even more effective by directing your inhalations toward your lower back.

Want to practice this yoga for back pain sequence at home? When you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you free printer-friendly PDF of the sequence above!

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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Essential Sequence: Neck, Shoulders, and Upper Back

12 Yoga Poses Sequence to Release Tension in the Shoulders, Neck, & Upper Back | yoga for shoulders and neck | Jason Crandell Yoga Method

WHY THIS SEQUENCE WORKS

Your shoulders have a lot of moving parts. Each shoulder has 4 joints (GH, AC, SC, ST), plus layers and layers of soft tissues that include muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When you add the physical demands that the shoulders undergo on a daily basis to the complexity of the region, you wind up with an unavoidable truth: Your shoulders need regular—if not daily maintenance—if you want your upper-body to be functional and comfortable.

ONE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT YOUR SHOULDERS, NECK, AND UPPER-BACK

We frequently take our body for granted. Even as yoga practitioners, we often forget the intricate subtlety and profound majesty of the body. When we take our body for granted, we forget that it needs our attention and care. We forget that our body needs regular—if not daily maintenance—especially as our body ages. I’ve watched my body through my yoga practice for 20 years and it’s finally become clear that my shoulders, neck, and upper-back need a simple, quick, daily practice if I want them to work optimally. I created the following sequence for myself a few months ago and I’ve been extremely consistent with it. It’s usually not the entirety of my practice or training on any given day. Rather, it’s a supplement. It’s simple, basic, and hugely effective. Think about it as the equivalent of brushing your teeth or taking a shower. It’s just basic hygiene that helps you feel better.

My recommendation is to do this sequence several days a week. It’s only going to take 10-15 minutes and it will be worth every moment. If you have a regular yoga practice, sneak this in at the end of your sequence. If you train, run, workout, or ride a desk all-day long, do this sequence in the evening before you go to bed. Just figure out a way to put this into your routine.

Yoga for Shoulders and Neck | Yoga Sequence to Relieve Tension in the Shoulders, Neck and Upper Back

POSES 1-3 :  Child’s Pose and Cat Pose

Child’s Pose and Cat Pose gently round the upper-back and release tension in the muscles that lay between the shoulder-blades. Since the head hangs freely in these postures, the muscles in the neck don’t have to work to support the weight of the head. This creates a nice, much needed rest for these often over-worked muscles.

POSES 3-6: Yoga for Shoulders and Neck Tension

If you practice with me live, online or with these illustrated sequences, you’ll recognize this straightforward, 4-pose shoulder-opening combination. I use this mini-sequence all the time. In fact, you can think about these 4 poses as a “mini shoulder-opening sequence” within a sequence. If you don’t have time to do this entire practice, these 4 poses will knock plenty of the rust off of your shoulders by themselves. These postures will help create mobility in your shoulders by taking them through a significant range of motion. If sitting in Virasana is difficult for you—or, you want a little more movement in your practice—you can do this combination of shoulder openers in Tadasana, Warrior 1 or Warrior 2.

POSES 7-10: Shoulder Opening Lunge and Forward Bends

Poses 7 – 10 are included to get you moving a little bit more. Even though this sequence is mellow, it’s nice to have a few poses where you can feel your body work. If you externally rotate your upper-arms and broaden your shoulder-blades properly, you will release the weight of your head and neck in down dog. This will help stretch the space between your shoulder-blades. Low lunge with your fingers interlaced behind your back will stretch your the front of your shoulders and chest. The two wide-legged standing forward bends will stretch your entire back-body and release tension in your upper-body by letting the weight of your head and neck to drop.

POSE 11: Dolphin Pose with Hands at Wall

Down Dog with the elbows on the floor and the hands on the wall is one of my favorite shoulder openers. It creates the same effect as Down Dog, but it increases the amount of leverage that you can stretch your shoulders with. To do this posture effectively, place your hands on the wall with your fingers pointing away from each other (your thumbs will face the ceiling). Keep your elbows shoulder-width apart. The most common mistake that people make when they’re practicing this pose is to lean their shoulders toward the wall. Instead—just like you do in Down Dog—press your shoulders toward your legs.

POSES 12: Viparita Karani

Legs Up The Wall. Need I say more?

Want to practice this sequence at home? When you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you free printer-friendly PDF of the sequence above!

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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A Smart Yoga Flow for Hamstrings

Downward-Facing Dog | Yoga for Tight Hamstrings | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

I am a vinyasa flow girl through and through. I believe that spending time studying alignment is vital to a lifelong yoga practice — whether in the form of Iyengar classes/workshops or with a flow teacher like Jason who occasionally slows things down. When you learn to understand and tune into the details of alignment you not only stave off potential injuries, you truly learn the skill of connecting your body and mind.

But after years of studying, I find that most days I want to flow. I like to begin and end practice with postures that are close to the ground because these poses simultaneously help me settle in and open up. And in between, I like to move. Moderately-paced movements help me build heat and keep my busy mind focused. And when I repeat poses — as opposed to doing long, static holds — I give myself the opportunity to slowly open up into a pose.

See also Sequencing Solutions: Strengthen your Hamstrings

The yoga for tight hamstrings sequence is a simple, forward bending flow that I love. Here are some notes on how to do the practice:

Poses 1-3: Half Happy Baby, Supta Padangusthasana A and Supta Padangusthasana B

Warming up your hamstrings on your back is a gentle, grounding way to begin. Be sure to keep a natural lumbar curve — don’t press your low back down into the ground. Do each of these poses for five breaths on both sides.

Poses 4 & 5: Downward-Facing Dog Pose and Uttanasana

From Supta Padangusthasana, draw your knees into your chest and rock back and forth on your spine. Keep rocking until you can place your hands on the floor in front of you and step back into Downward-Dog. Use this Down Dog to shake off the cobwebs. Feel free to pedal your feet and move and groove. Stay for 5-8 breaths.

Walk your feet to your hands and come into a very relaxed Uttanasana. Some people call this version Ragdoll. I’d like to coin the name, “Chill Uttanasana.” Do you think that will catch on? The point is: Bend your knees. Press down through your feet and try to gain length in your spine. After 5-8 deep, full breaths, roll up to standing.

Poses 6-10: Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Parsvottanasana, Prasarita Paddotanasana

Yahoo, it’s time to flow! Jump your feet wide and face sideways on your mat for poses 6-10. Repeat these poses on the second side. (If you know how, you can incorporate this section into Sun Salutations and repeat it twice on each side.)

Poses 11-14: Upavistha Konasana, Janu Sirsasana, Paschimottanasana, Savasana

Move into your seated postures remembering that the goal of a forward bending practice isn’t to slam your torso against your thighs. The goal is to stretch the whole back side of your body in a way that works for you!

In each of these poses press the tops of your thighbones down as you lengthen your spine into the forward bend. Stay for 5 breaths each (do Janu Sirsasana on both sides) before taking a 5-minute Savasana.

Sorry: Preschooler in a tutu not included. But feel free to incorporate your own, or your dog, your cat, your bird, your guinea pig…

Yoga for Tight Hamstrings | Yoga Sequence for Hamstrings | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

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Essential Sequence: The Perfect Shoulderstand Prep

sarvangasana shoulderstand-sequence | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method | JasonYoga.com

WHY THIS SARVANGASANA (SHOULDERSTAND) SEQUENCE WORKS

I’m going to start this article with the same caveat that I included in my Headstand sequence: This practice is not designed to teach you Shoulderstand. Rather, it’s designed to break down the elements that comprise good, skillful sequencing for Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana).  It’s only intended for students and teachers who are already proficient in this posture. If you’re not regularly practicing Shoulderstand, please learn the pose in the presence of a qualified instructor.

Shoulderstand (also known as Sarvangasana)  is a simple posture, except for one glaring component—the shoulders. It’s fitting that the shoulders are the exceptional aspect of the posture that bears its’ name. When the shoulders don’t comply with the posture, they create misalignments that can wreak havoc on the neck and make the entire posture feel out of whack.

Fortunately, a good sequence for Shoulderstand can help prepare your body where you need it most: the front of your shoulders, chest, hip flexors, and quads. Your shoulders need to extend and adduct in order to get into the optimal position for Shoulderstand. To visualize this: Imagine swinging your upper arms back behind you, bending your elbows, and hugging your elbows toward each other. Otherwise, your elbows will splay away from each other, you’ll lose stability that your shoulders provide, and you’ll overload your neck. The combination of extending and adducting your shoulders actions is not easy, which is why the sequence below focuses so heavily on anterior (front) shoulder and chest opening.

Admittedly, the flexibility of your hip flexors and quads is not as important as the flexibility of your shoulders. But, excessive tension in these muscle groups can negatively impact your overall posture, especially when you’re upside-down.

Let’s break it down a little further:

POSES 1-3

This sequence starts off with Ardha Supta Virasana, Down Dog, and Low Lunge with fingers clasped behind the back. These postures introduce three essential components of Shoulderstand. You open the front of your shoulders and chest in the low lunge, you open your hip flexors and quads in Ardha Supta Virasana, and you get upside down in Downward-Facing Dog.

POSES 4 – 8

Postures 4-8 form the heart of this sequence. I snuck Reverse Warrior into the mix because it’s wise to do sidebends before backbend and because the posture adds some variety and balance to the sequence. Transitioning from Reverse Warrior to Ardha Chandrasana with the foot clasped is a nice, simple combination. Ardha Chandrasana with the foot clasped helps prepare you for the sequence of backbends to follow since it stretches the hip flexors and quads. I can’t emphasize enough how integral opening the front of the chest, shoulders, and thoracic spine is to a healthy Shoulderstand. Towards this end, postures 6, 7, and 8 are a straightforward progression of backbends. Bridge Pose is the simplest of the three backbends and so it could have been first in the series, not last. But, Bridge Pose does such a great job of replicating the actions of the upper body in Shoulderstand that I wanted to include it as the final backbend in the series.

POSES 9 – 10

If you wanted a shorter sequence, you could skip poses 9 & 10. In fact, I like the idea of going from poses 4-8 straight into Plow and Shoulderstand nearly as much as I like including postures 9 & 10. Going straight from postures 4-8 into Shoulderstand provides you with the continuity of opening your chest since these postures focus so heavily on opening your chest and shoulders. That said, I’m including Child’s Pose and seated forward bend in this sequence prior to Shoulderstand because they’re good for soothing the nervous system. Ideally, Shoulderstand is a deeply nurturing, quieting posture. Practicing Child’s Pose and seated forward bend before Plow Pose and Shoulderstand may make these postures more beneficial by helping you settle your nervous system.

POSES 11 – 12

Plow Pose provides the perfect transition into Shoulderstand and out of Shoulderstand. There’s no mystery here. Enjoy.

Want to practice this sequence at home? When you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you free printer-friendly PDF of the sequence above!

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

4 comments Add Your Own

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